Accidental Racist or Ebony and Ivory

by Bob Schwartz

Accidental Racist
You know that the controversy about Accidental Racist, the track and video from Brad Paisley’s new Wheelhouse album, is way out of hand when he is criticized for not being a “real” Southerner anyway because he was born in West Virginia and only now lives in Tennessee.

Seriously.

If you haven’t heard, Accidental Racist is a collaboration between Paisley and LL Cool J. You can find, listen to and purchase the audio. But the official video was pulled almost immediately, in the wake of an unprecedented avalanche of criticism and derision of the song—musically, culturally, politically, sociologically, morally—which adds up to this: It is the worst, most misguided, most laughable, most unlistenable record ever.

What did Brad Paisley, not quite authentic Southerner, and certainly a musical lightweight (20 number one singles, but those were country number ones), do to deserve this?

He wrote and recorded a song that, stripped to its essentials, says that it’s hard to be a Southerner because people come at you with all kinds of presuppositions, not the least of which is that everything you do or say has to be measured against a history which you were not involved in, which doesn’t reflect who you are, and which puts you in the position of not being quite sure of what you can embrace and what you have to reject. LL Cool J comes in to briefly add exactly the same perspective for urban black men.

Simplistic and clumsy, musically and poetically? Maybe. Sincere? Absolutely. Reflects a real problem for Southerners, who just like post-War Germans, have a culture they are proud of, but have to still perform a delicate balancing act to make sure they aren’t the wrong kind of proud so that they can distance themselves from aspects of their own history and from that very culture? If you think that’s easy, try it yourself.

Is Accidental Racist really that bad? Submitted for your consideration, Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Stevie Wonder (he deserves a knighthood too). These two are musical geniuses and real humanitarians. Brad Paisley and LL Cool J would be the first to admit that they are not in their league.

The success of McCartney and Wonder includes their collaboration Ebony and Ivory, which spent seven weeks as a number one single in 1982. The song did not propose anything  challenging or deep about racism, nothing about history, or blame, or stereotypes. Instead, it all comes down to something obvious, something uncontroversial that nobody could complain about. Maybe covering this would have been a better choice in 2013. Or maybe not.

Ebony and Ivory

Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony
Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord, why don’t we?

We all know that people are the same where ever we go
There is good and bad in everyone
We learn to live, we learn to give
Each other what we need to survive together alive

Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony
Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord, why don’t we?
Ebony, ivory living in perfect harmony
Ebony, ivory, ooh

We all know that people are the same where ever we go
There is good and bad in everyone
We learn to live, we learn to give
Each other what we need to survive together alive

Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony
Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord why don’t we?

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